Read the full article by Ryan Felton (Consumer Reports)

“A chemical introduced by the manufacturer Solvay Specialty Polymers USA to replace a now-regulated PFAS substance has been found in New Jersey drinking water, and the company’s own research suggests that it can cause liver damage, according to emails obtained by Consumer Reports. 

Solvay introduced the new compound as early as 2013, the emails suggest, to replace PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid), which the company used at its plantin the town of West Deptford to manufacture plastic components for consumer products. In 2018, New Jersey adopted strict limits in drinking water for PFNA, one of several thousand so-called forever chemicals, after preliminary research linked it to immune-system and liver problems. The state has attributed PFNA contamination (PDF) of soil and water around Solvay’s facility to the company, which denies responsibility. 

Researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency and New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revealed last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters that they’d detected a PFAS replacement in water that was ‘believed to originate from a regional, industrial user.’ 

The emails make clear that regulators believe Solvay is the source, according to internal EPA communication obtained by CR through the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, preliminary animal research indicates that the new compound is at least as toxic as the older chemical it replaced, the emails say. 

In an email from June 25, 2019, New Jersey DEP environmental specialist Erica Bergman told state and federal scientists that ‘Solvay’s replacement PFAS’ had been detected in several private drinking wells. And an analysis of Solvay’s own research suggests that the compound poses ‘a potential for human toxicity,’ possibly even at lower doses than PFNA or PFOA, another older, well-studied PFAS compound, according to Bergman’s email. That research, conducted in rats, ‘indicated that these PFAS cause liver toxicity at very low doses,’ Bergman wrote.

The studies themselves weren’t included in the emails, and Solvay has previously declined to provide safety data on the replacement PFAS, claiming that the information is confidential.

In a statement, Solvay said research has not yet definitively shown that the chemical identified in the recent studies is one used by the company. And, the statement says, EPA and New Jersey DEP researchers acknowledge that their work was ‘non-targeted,’ so the findings are ‘inherently imprecise.’ 

‘These analyses, which were performed without any Solvay inquiry or consultation, are not substitutes for concrete analytical data using verified analytical standards,’ the statement says. 

Solvay has been using the PFAS replacement at its facility for years, despite not having implemented an official way for regulators or independent researchers to analyze whether the new compound is present in the environment, CR reported last month. And EPA and New Jersey DEP researchers wrote in the study published last month that ‘non-targeted’ analyses have been ‘crucial’ for identifying new PFAS compounds…”